Sonoma Growers Appeal to Regulators

Self-assessments may help clarify water quality regulations and show compliance

by Paul Franson
Sonoma Growers Appeal to Regulators
Sustainability workshops like this one were held around the state.
Santa Rosa, Calif. -- In Sonoma County, 316 organizations that farm more than 40,000 of the county's 60,000 acres of grapes have submitted self-assessment data for inclusion in the statewide "Code of Sustainable Winegrowing" report, and they hope their responses may help influence future regulatory efforts.

Nick Frey, the president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission in Santa Rosa, says the county's growers started to perform the assessments shortly after they were released in October of 2003, and growers continue to complete the forms. "Some people lag, some are only learning about the effort in spite of our work, and there are some growers who may not be convinced that it's worth the effort," he said, but added that there are both individual and collective benefits.

Aside from the potential to highlight areas for improvement in their own operations by completing the exercise, some growers report that their insurance companies have given them a discount for participating.

More significantly for all the growers, Frey told Wines & Vines that the commission has proposed using the code to clarify regulations related to water quality and other issues, and also to demonstrate compliance with regulations of the National Marine Fishery Service regarding the environment for threatened and endangered fish, like salmon.

The data might also be used in demonstrating the role of Sonoma growers to Regional Water Quality Control Boards for compliance with total maximum daily load (TMDL) regulations.

Frey says they'd like to use self-assessment data, followed by action planning, to improve elements that are below minimum limits for water quality enhancement or habitat improvement, followed by re-assessment.

He admits that he cannot predict the likelihood that this will be acceptable to the agencies involved, however.

The biggest issue in water quality in Sonoma is sediment, he adds, so anything that deals with erosion is a big concern. "The stream setbacks are already in place."

Temperatures in the streams are also of concern.

Frey feels that pesticides aren't as significant in water quality. "Sonoma growers have significantly decreased their use of pesticides since 1997, with sulfur usage alone dropping 800,000 lbs. this year. It was 3 million lbs. in 1998, and only 1.8 million last year."

And as growers know, sulfur is a relatively benign material. "It's really more of an issue for air quality and skin irritation," he says.

He notes that many growers are using products such as JMS Stylet for controlling fungus as well as other pests such as mites and hoppers, and sulfur can't be applied for 10 days after its application. It's relatively mild on beneficial insects, too.

"Our biggest fear is that growers may have to start using more pesticides to combat exotic pests such as vine mealybugs. We've already seen an increase in some of them for this."

To further reduce the use of pesticides, the Sonoma Grapegrower Commission is studying optimum time and dosage in local conditions with UC Davis. Most of the previous studies have occurred in the different environment of the southern Central Valley.

Frey hopes regulators will accept the efforts to reduce the environmental impact as they're setting and applying regulations.

The commission will be addressing these issues and more at its annual Dollars and $ense seminar Jan. 24. Rem Scherzinger, Sonoma County Water Agency Engineer, and Mark Greenspan of Advanced Viticulture will address water conservation results in 2007.

Seminar topics will also include Sonoma County marketing, North Coast grape and bulk wine markets, the economics of vineyard cultural practices, and world agricultural trends and their implications for Sonoma County.

The conference will also feature a trade show.

For details, go to sonomawinegrape.org.
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